at the Westin Imagine: Imagine it getting better
I had a chance to dine at Fiorella's in the new Westin Imagine hotel last night. The Imagine sits behind the Orange County Convention Center on Universal Boulevard, not far from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management. Do you think we could get the hotel's staff signed up for some refresher courses on basic service?
The event was a media dinner to unveil a new work by local glass artist Charles Kiela, although the artwork wasn't veiled so it wasn't much of an unveiling, so never mind about that.
Since it was a media dinner the menu, under the direction of executive chef Richard Mendoza, was set. The evening started with a reception in the rather unattractive portico outside the restaurant (think bright halogen lighting and a space with all the charm of a typical patio in a tract housing subdivision). While guests sipped wine -- all wines for the evening were supplied by Antinori Winery -- serves passed hors d'oeuvres. No, that's not quite right; servers passed through the area holding a plateful of crostini but never offered them to anyone. I guess if we wanted one we were meant to flag someone down and ask politely.
We moved inside into the smallish but pleasant dining area. There is a lot of warm wood tones and mottled walls a la Tuscan-style plaster. Keila's glassworks decorate the walls and offer splashes of color.
It would be nice if the restaurant used tablecloths to add a touch of classiness (and absorb some of the noise). Hotel restaurants have the advantage of having an onsite laundry facility, so linens shouldn't be that big a deal.
The antipasta course was a platter of fresh mozzarella, wonderful hunks of pecorino romano, little balls of ricotta, soppresata, bresaola and salami. The course was paired with Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2003, a blend of 90% sangiovese and 10% cabernet sauvignon. It had wonderful well-rounded tones.
The fish course featured two shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and intertwined in something of a shellfish death grip -- it took a little coaxing to separate them, but they were delicious. The prosciutto lent a decidedly salty note that was not unpleasant. What was unpleasant was the Chianti butter sauce that was spread on the plate. It was a most unattractive grayish brown. Another Chianti Classico Riserva, the 2003 Badia a Passignano, which is 100% sangiovese, was just right with the seasonings.
The roasted veal tenderloin was superb. It was a beautiful medium-rare and was as tender as you'd expect veal to be. It was accompanied by a glop of polenta and assorted roasted vegetables. A 2006 Bolgheri Tenuta Guado al Tasso was the course's selected wine.
The mascarpone-filled poached pear covered with chocolate made the chianti butter sauce look pretty. But even with my eyes closed, the taste and texture didn't save this one for me.
There were plenty of staff members moving about but few seemed to know the basics of good service. I don't think they've had the training because I saw management making some of the same errors, such as back-handed pouring, reaching across guests to pour wine, picking up glasses to fill them and other stuff that are usually dismissed as rookie mistakes. A company like Westin, part of Starwood Hotels, should know better. Indeed, some of the finest service I've had has been at other Starwood properties.
Dust off those training manuals and this could turn into a destination restaurant for locals.